Q&A with Big Sky Resort's Snowreporter Joe Schufman

Written by Anna Husted and Joe Schufman on at

I saw down with first-year snowreporter Joe Schufman to discuss weather stations, how Big Sky Resort's snow report is gathered each day, and what it feels like to provide the world with great powder news from Big Sky Resort

What time do you usually wake up in the morning?
I wake up at 3:45 a.m., but usually don't get out of bed until about 4:00 a.m. Once you are used to waking up this early it's no different than waking up at 8:00 a.m.

What's the very first thing you do when you get into the office?
I head straight to the computer to figure out how much snow we received overnight and what is going to happen with snow and weather today. To figure out snow totals we use automated weather stations and an on-mountain camera. These stations provide accurate totals for most of the mountain below treeline, for upper mountain totals we need to wait until about 8:00 a.m. for Ski Patrol to get on Lone Peak, and then they radio us with what the upper mountain snow totals are.

We use the best information we have available to determine snow totals, but it's not an exact science when 5,800 acres of terrain is combined with wind, aspect, and elevation. To counter the variable snowfall totals we report a range of snow - the lower number of that range represents the amount of snow the entire mountain received, and the upper number represents the areas that received more snow due to wind loading or elevation.

Can you give me a step-by-step of who you talk to in the mornings to get the snow report out to the public? Where do they get the snow report from?
Once I have the weather information I record a message on the Snow Phone with the pertinent information for the day: Current temperature, expected high temperature, low temperature, winds, skies, snowfall and snow totals: since lifts closed, 24-hour, 48-hour, and 7-day. If there are major events happening at the resort I include those too.
Next, I send out the information via a fax and an email and then I update five websites: Beta Scout, OnTheSnow, SnoCountry, Ski Montana, and a European site, Ski Resort Service International. Then I re-update the Snow Phone and the call two local radio stations. Depending on how hard it's snowing in the morning we can update our channels as frequently as every 30 minutes.

After this we start building the grooming report, which also reports similar weather, snow, events, and, obviously, groomed trails. Paper and electronic copies are distributed around 7:00 a.m. resort-wide.

Where are the weather stations located?
Our automated weather stations are located all around Big Sky Resort, and we even use some of the Yellowstone Club's automated weather stations. I use the instruments at Bavaria, Andesite, Lobo and Lookout Ridge. If you check out http://www.mtavalanche.com/weather there is a map with the locations of all the weather stations in the area pinned.

Where do we pull temperatures from?
Sten, our web guru, programmed the temperature feed from our Lobo Weather Station. Lobo is a mid-mountain weather station that is more or less an average temperature for the entire resort. The difference of the peak and base area temperature is about 10 degrees, so the peak and base area are + or - 5 degrees of what is reported by this feed. Typically Lone Peak is slightly cooler than Lobo, and Mountain Village Base Area is slightly warmer than Lobo, but sometimes Big Sky Resort experiences temperature inversions. When an inversion occurs it means that higher elevations are warmer than lower elevations. Make sure to check out Big Sky Resort's online Snow Report or call the Snow Phone as we report inverted temperatures.

What's your favorite thing about doing the snowreport?
It's really cool to be the first person awake on a powder day and getting to report the great news to the world. Other perks of the job are I get to work in an office with an outstanding team, I get time to ski almost every day because I have half of my work day done by 9:00 am, and finally we get to work on projects that we find interesting. It's great to work in many areas of the resort and learn how many departments operate.

Least favorite thing?
No secret here, waking up early and getting to ski every day means you go to bed early and are almost exclusively dedicated to the job and skiing.

People often ask the snowreporters or other team members at Big Sky Resort why we have one report for the entire mountain. Why do we do this? Or why do you think we do this?
We have one report because it adequately describes the conditions. The nature of any mountain means different snow conditions exist in different areas depending on winds, aspects, and elevations. Big Sky Resort is bigger than most mountains, but this doesn't mean we need to have four separate snow reports for the different areas of the mountain. What we do, that most mountains don't, is use a range of snowfall to accurately represent the minimum amount of snow the entire resort received and the maximum amount that skiers and riders can expect to find.

What is the trickiest part about reporting on snowfall over 5,800 acres?
Figuring out the right numbers. Conservative or liberal snow numbers mean that people won't get what they expected, which may lead to very dissatisfied guests. The reports that we create need to accurately describe what is happening at Big Sky Resort, so that people know what to expect.

Any other comments?
The office that I work in is great. Everyone is dedicated to their job, and watching the Sales and Marketing Team work together is like a v12 engine running on all cylinders. Ana, a second year Big Sky Snow Reporter, is an amazing coworker. She is an exceptionally fun person with tons of character. She applies her personality and passion for skiing and riding to her job, and the results are great.

Joe
Snowreporter Joe Schufman

Ana
Snowreporter Ana Dostert